*Disclaimer: The opinions in this article reflect solely on the author, not the organizations or WCU*
The rhetoric characterizing Donald Trump’s entire presidency, but more specifically, his immigration policy stances would have you believing the man personally handcuffs children on the street and throws them into a prison shack in his basement. Joe Biden, of course, would never do such a thing, or at least he would call it by another name. For four years, we have heard the rallying cries, largely from the left, that it was a cruel and unjust crime against humanity to hold undocumented children in these detention facilities, while the government spent money and other resources working to identify who the children were, where they came from, attempting to locate their parents, and preventing them from potentially being released back into the hands of human traffickers.
Did Trump Achieve his Campaign Promises?
Trump’s immigration policy stances were largely indicative of law and order, while Biden touts a more progressive and lenient stance on illegal immigration. Famously, Trump ran on a platform that consisted of promises such as building a border wall between the US and Mexico and even insisting that Mexico would pay for it. The ladder never happened, but the border wall and securing the country’s borders in general were not new ideas and have actually been implemented for decades, even by Democratic administrations. In fact, throughout Trump’s presidency, he partially delivered on his promises of building a wall along the border with 452 miles in total. However, only 80 miles of that border wall was new territory where border walls had not previously existed (and even then, only 40 miles of that is the primary wall, while the other half is a secondary wall built as reinforcement). The remaining 400+ miles of border wall that was built was a repair and extension in height of the previously existing border wall put in place by previous administrations (Giles, 2021). When Barack Obama left office, he left behind 654 miles of border fencing (Timm, 2021).
Democratic & Republican Attitudes Towards Immigration Reform
The public perception is that the Republican party is the party of border security, discincentivizing illegal immigration, and deportation, while the Democratic party is the opposite, but the parties have more similar track records than most people are aware of. “We simply cannot allow people to pour into the United States undetected, undocumented, unchecked, and circumventing the line of people who are waiting patiently, diligently, and lawfully to become immigrants in this country” (The Associated Press, 2018). Quote by Donald Trump? Think again, because that’s actually Barack Obama in 2005. On a separate occasion he also stated “no matter how decent they are, no matter the reasons, the 11 million who broke these laws should be held accountable” (Liasson, 2010). In the 1990s Bill Clinton signed two bills into law, known as the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the Immigrant Responsibility Act, respectively. Some of the measures in these bills included expanding the grounds for deportation to include any crime, including misdemeanors, prohibited judges from considering life circumstances in order to grant pardons on a case-by-base basis, and required that many immigrants facing exile for a crime be imprisoned indefinitely, beyond the period of their sentence, until the exile was carried out (Shahani 2019). Additionally, the laws also subjected illegal immigrants to fast-track deportations in which officers could carry out deporations without any hearing from a judge. Obama carried out so many deportations during his term, he was nicknamed “the deporter in chief.” While in more recent years, Democratic rhetoric and platitudes surrounding immigration has softened to cater to their base, their actual policies are not nearly as liberal as their rhetoric.
Why do we have these detention facilities?
This brings us to the prime issue at hand: kids in so-called cages, or as they are now being referred to under the Biden administration: immigration overflow facilities. To begin with, why do we have these facilities and what is the process? It is illegal to enter the United States border without going through the proper legal channels, such as applying for a Visa? When an undocumented adult or an adult accompanied with a child or a child alone is caught crossing the border, they will be taken into the custody of the US Border Patrol. This placement in the custody of the US Border Patrol is temporary and the typical expected hold is 72 hours (Lind, 2019). However, throughout this period, the government attempts to locate the parents of unaccompanied children and needs to verify the identities of the people they are accompanied with, before the children can be moved to the Department of Human Health Services, which is tasked with placing the children with their nearest relative while the case is adjudicated. This process can extend the waiting time. Many in the media have written scathing articles about how separating children from their families is a human rights violation. However, many children are victims of human traffickers and undocumented children can also become victim to sex traffickers if not properly reunited with their actual family. Furthermore, a child’s parent who illegally and knowingly entered the United States broke the law and whether or not you believe that should be the case, as the current law stands, they must be apprehended and potentially prosecuted or deported. This is surely not the fault of the unknowing children who are brought along to the U.S without a choice, but this is why illegal immigration is discouraged. While many illegal immigrants are fleeing their home countries which are ravaged by war, poverty, drugs, and other horrors, there are others who attempt to enter the United States for illegitimate or nefarious reasons. It is in the best interest of the children that Border Patrol properly vets every person that crosses the border. After all, it is not even of the Democratic party’s position that we should have a policy of open borders. Hillary Clinton is on record as stating that while she admires the generous compassionate approaches taken by leaders such as Angela Merkel, she still believes that immigration reform, not open borders, is needed on both sides of the Atlantic (Gregorian, 2018).
The Current Crisis on the Border
The Biden Administration has created a policy that states it will expel all new asylum seekers arriving in the US except for minors who arrive alone. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a skyrocketing rate of unaccompanied children arriving in the US, with the number of unaccompanied children reaching 18,500 in March, which is 60% higher than in March 2019 (Ainsley, 2021). Immigration attorney Amy Maldonado claims that migrant families who are desperate for their child’s safety are motivated to send their children alone, because they know they do not face the risk of expulsion (Ainsley & Burns, 2021). However, these spikes in the rate of unaccompanied children crossing the border are the exact sort of factors that lead to the situation that the media has been criticizing throughout Trump’s entire presidency: swaths of young children stuck in a detention center without any family and without any place for Border Patrol to place them. Some families who are desperate pay murderous cartels to smuggle their children into the country and some children die along the way or face abuse from human traffickers. It is certainly not sunshine and rainbows for a young child to make this journey by themselves or with untrustworthy human traffickers and smugglers.
Why is it, then, that this uncomfortable and tough situation was characterized as a heartless and cold disregard for life under the Trump administration, while the Biden administration who made these very claims is guilty of the same hypocrisy? I recall Senator Alexandria Ocasio Cortez bursting into tears when she visited a migrant detention facility that was holding children. To her credit, she has remained consistent in criticizing the Biden administration for doing the same. She does, however, defend the very situation that leads to the overcapacity in what AOC herself has deemed “concentration camps”, which is incentivizing large swaths of undocumented children to enter the border. The Biden administration is currently facing an illegal immigration crisis, with surges of undocumented children overflowing the very facilities the administration claims it was so unremittingly against last year. Many mainstream news media sites have not remained so transparent or consistent in their criticisms of the detention facilities.
WH Press Secretary Psaki Unable to Differentiate between Trump’s Cages and Biden’s “Overflow Facilities”
When Biden’s White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was pressed by a reporter about why the administration has reopened a migrant facility for immigrant children in Texas, Psaki appeared flustered and unable to articulate the difference between Trump’s migrant facilities and those operating under the Biden administration. Attempting to explain, Psaki pointed to factors such as the amount of time it takes to relocate children to the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement, which can take a few days as well as the fact that COVID-19 protocols limiting capacity for existing shelters has been reduced. “To ensure the health and safety of these kids, HHS took steps to open an emergency facility to add capacity where these children can be provided the care they need before they are safely placed with families and sponsors, so it’s a temporary reopening during COVID-19, our intention is very much to close it, but we want to ensure that we can follow COVID protocols as unaccompanied minors come into the United States” Psaki stated. Journalist Steven Doocy fired back “but it’s the same facility that was open for a month in the Trump administration, summer 2019, that is when Joe Biden said under Trump “there have been horrifying scenes at the border of kids being kept in cages” and Kamala Harris said basically “babies in cages is a human rights abuse being committed by the United States government”, so how is this any different from that? Psaki responded “we very much feel that way” (The National, 2021). A quick google search will now land you on a plethora of articles characterizing the situation on the border as “immigration overflow facilities” rather than kids being locked in cages or concentration camps. The point is, the Biden administration has turned its back on its promise to protect migrant children from the same conditions it condemned Trump for and the press is not holding the administration accountable either. Our country more than ever could use more nuance and honesty rather than character attacks and embellished stories that further their own narratives.
Ainsley, J. (2021, April 3). Record number of unaccompanied children crossed the border in March. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/immigration/record-number-unaccompanied…
Ainsley, J., & Burns, D. (2021, Mach 17). Some migrants now sending their kids across the border alone so the kids won’t be expelled, say lawyers. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/immigration/some-migrants-now-sending-t…
Giles, C. (2021, January 12). Trump’s wall: How much has been built during his term? BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-46748492
Gregorian, D. (2018, November 24). Hillary Clinton calls for reform, ‘not open borders,’ in explaining European migration remarks. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/hillary-clinton-calls-ref…
Lind, D. (2019, June 25). The horrifying conditions facing kids in border detention, explained. Vox. https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/6/25/18715725/children-bord…
Shahani, A. (2019, November 11). Bill Clinton owes my father an apology. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/11/time-bill-clinton-apol…
The Associated Press. (2018, November 3). Obama’s 2005 remarks reflect strong stance on controlling immigration. Associated Press News. https://apnews.com/article/2477111077
The National. (2021, February 25). ‘This is not kids in cages’: Jen Psaki defends reopening of child migrant facility. . Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jioF2Ne07ck
Timm, J. C. (2021, January 13). Fact check: Mexico never paid for it. But what about Trump’s other border wall promises? NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/donald-trump/fact-check-mexico-never-pa…